Tough questions in Merced: Save money or jobs?

MERCED, Calif.

The city of Merced say it's cut more than 80 positions in the past three years, including twelve from the fire department plus 20 police officers. And now officials say they may have to eliminate dozens more.

John Bramble said, "Clearly with a $5 million structural deficit, it's a pretty serious problem."

Merced City Manager, John Bramble says a lack of property tax and sales tax revenue has forced the city to dip into its reserve funds, but that money is starting to run out. That's why the city has hired a polling firm to call 400 registered voters this month to get a sense of whether they would approve a sales tax or tax on utility services like water, sewer, and garbage.

"Right now we're looking at a half cent sales tax, but that doesn't mean that if they responded with a quarter cent that that would be discounted," said Bramble. "Same with utilities tax, we'd have to look at potentially two different rates."

Residents we spoke to were split on the idea. Tom Nealon does not support new taxes. "I think they need to reassess city government and their overall budget and if jobs need to be cut, then they need to cut jobs."

But Renee Villa says he'd rather pay more taxes than have city services slashed. "My general thought would be to increase taxes because it provides the services for the community. Definitely, without a shadow of a doubt."

City officials say if the poll results look favorable, they'll likely put a tax proposal on the ballot in the summer. But if not, they'll have to prepare for some painful decisions.

Bramble adds, "It is always scary when you have the potential of layoffs and major cuts, and we're doing everything we can to assure people, but the stark reality is the revenues are just not coming in."

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